Monday, September 24, 2007

The first days of the new life

The first days in Germany have been, as it was probably to be expected, a mix of contrasting feelings. The first 24 hours were marked by its loneliness. With Susanne in Berlin, I went along with house cores most of Friday and Saturday, reading and discovering new ways to keep in touch with my country, finding out that I can check the news online, even if with a 6 hours delay, several other TV programmes (not that I really will have the time to) and, most importantly, the football games.

For Saturday evening I had sent out a call for a early meeting of the programme's participants. 4 eventually showed up, which at the moment I considered a great failure, before getting to know that the class would had been of a mere 15, rather than the 25 anticipated. Anyway, besides Anna, who I had already met during the summer, I was glad to make the acquaintance of Fanny, a hyperactive french girl, Ruth, an ever laughing German, and Nidhi, the youngest and possibly most lost of the group, coming from India. It turned out to be a pleasant evening spent in chatting. exchanging background information and wondering about the future classes.

The morning after, not having anything better to do, we met again (on the left, Ruth and Nidhi), missing Anna, with a half idea of reaching Rudesheim, but eventually changing our mind at the every last moment and jumping on a train to Worms.

I must say, I had great expectations about this city, background of some of the most important facts as the Concordat and the Diet.

Unfortunately, Worms was severely hit during WWII, even if to a lesser extent than Manz, and the reconstruction was even more modern than in other places I've seen, leaving a town with a few interesting building in a mostly modern pattern.

Some things were, however, noteworthy. The Cathedral, for instance, is a wonderful example of German romance architecture and holds the sarcophagi of several German emperors of the high middle age.

The Nibelungen Museum, per se little more than a well done and fun audiovisual escapade in the world of German mythology, is placed inside a remaining segment of the old city walls.

Also, the immense tower guarding the entrance of the city was a sight to be seen.

On Tuesday, thanks to the immense kindness of Ruth, who set next to us all through the process, the three non German of us got officially registered in Mainz, and therefore I'm, temporarily, a citizen here. Go figure.

Finally, on Wednesday it was the first day at university, for the induction. There, we were welcomed, in order, by the Programme supervisor for Germany, by the Fachhochschule's Dean, by an envoy of the London South Bank University who turned out to be the same old English gentleman who had interviewed me a few months ago, by the programme manager and my the English teacher (yes, we will get academic English lessons, focused on the writing of academic papers, on top of everything else). There we were also given the guides for the various units (and damn if it looks like a hugely load of work to do in a mere 12 weeks of classes plus a couple of pre-exam preparation).

In the afternoon, we amused the population of Mainz by taking a university scheduled ride all around the city on this yellow "train" designed to give an overview of the most salient aspects of the city and eventually proceeded to the nearest bar, again trying to get a sense of the group and an idea of each other.

The group, as I said, is small, counting at that time 13 elements, raising to 14 today with the late arrival of another student from India, and as heterogeneous as it can be: age goes from 20 to 32 (the latter being your truly), background goes from law to informatics passing through economics and media production, national background covering three continents (7 from Germany, 2 from France and India, 1 each from Italy, Russia, Peru), while gender wise is more or less balanced, 8 girls to 6 boys.

As a skin-feeling, they all look as pretty interesting, smart boys and girls, with some being more shy and reserved than others, but all in all I had a positive vibe, so to say. To my surprise, of the 7 non German, 4 already speak German, which might cause a bit of a friction, but I will also take German classes so I hope to be bale to close the gap.

Thursday was the moment of administrative paper in order to be enrolled officially at the university (and, in the afternoon, of AS Roma's game against Dinamo Kiev which I happily watched online), while Friday morning was the big day of the survival week-end, when, at 8 am, we left Mainz to reach this youth hostel in the hills near Dahn, to indulge in a day of team-building activities managed by professionals, including climbing down a 50 meters cliff, and an evening of barbecue and... free alcohol. At midnight, the time when even the most hardcore partygoers broke down and went to bed, the first hint of a group could had been seen where only singles stood in the morning. Pretty disconcerting for someone used to Italian University, was the Head of the Programme, and professor of International Management, who at some point first sort of played the DJ and then came down with a guitar and proceeded to sing with us.

Saturday, a pretty exhausted group returned to Mainz and dissolved, each heading to his chores, with a vague idea of regrouping in the evening, when ultimately only Fanny and myself met and were later joined by Caroline and Joachim, both German, and a friend of the latter. Those three, at midnight, headed to disco while the Latin ones decided to call it a night.

Sunday was spent home, watching Rome's game against Juventus and relaxing, preparing for the first official day of classes, the morning after.

In the meanwhile, I managed to establish contact with my family over Skype and, in pure Italian tradition, they didn't wait even a week before sending me a relief package... only, my father had the brilliant idea of sending it a Susanne's name and so it is currently sitting in a DHL station and runs the risk of being sent back, much to my frustration....

Friday, September 14, 2007

The last days of the old life

It would be too long to describe the feelings and what was done in the last days of what is going to be my life of past, to which I will probably never return. Friday the 14th, against all roman superstitions that say that you should never get married or start a travel or begin a work on tuesday and friday, marks the beginning of a journey that will keep me away from what has been, so far, my world, a travel that will last at least until 2009, but that many suspect will go further than that.

In the 10 days leading to the fateful moment, many things went wrong, many went incredibly well and some were unexpected. Just the few that come to my mind now I shall list, sure that many I must have forgotten already.

First of all, some things had to be closed. So it was that I organized my last, for now, VCN ethnic dinner, going back to where I started, at the Eritrean restaurant. I will have to find time to write the report of that dinner and to post pictures, but I shall just say that it was a very pleasant evening.

Then, and most important, my job. And the closing days were intense and rich of unexpected things indeed. On a friday that should had been a day off, I was instead running at the airport, shaving on the way, to pick up the CEO of an important american firm my company was signing a crucial deal with. The day saw me so busy in a hundred different things (among which, chaperoning the host, translating a news release, taking picture of the event) that at the end of the day my boss was patronized by my own CEO about having me doing everything. So it happens that almost at the every last day of a 3 years and 7 months experience I not only get to do an interesting job, but I get even noticed directly by my CEO. Irony.

The next wednesday, last wednesday, it was my last day at work and I offered my colleagues, old and new, a buffet. Most notably, of my previous department's colleague, only 2 did show up out of 13, which generally left me unsurprised, but in at least two cases was upsetting. On the other hand, the attending one, together with my full department and a tenth or so of people I have been close in the last years, did not only show up, but showered me with unexpected farewell gifts (among which, an Ipod shuffle and a number of books) in a way that, I must admit, together with the evident sorrow in most of the faces around, moved me. I hope I shall get a copy of the pics that have been taken that day, I'd like to show their faces.

Friends did, on the other hand, let me down. Admittedly, they had returned from travel abroad just days, or even hours, before, but finding myself alone on my last week-end in Rome was one of the most depressing experience of my life. They make it up on my last day, when we finally met, and yet the atmosphere was not merry at all. I suspect that, as some of my colleagues at work, they suspect I might not return from this experience, settling either in Germany or Italy.

And then, there was family. The farewell to my family was made of a number of rites and of understatement and had started as far away as a month ago, when I went to pay homage to the elder member of my family, my grandmother, and was closed with the one to the youngest one, my one month old cousin, Elisa, whose baptise I shall miss. And then there was the cleaning of the room, the packing (during which not once my mother entered my room), the evenings in front of the tv with my father, the installation of skype on the various computers and the dinner at my favourite restaurant the last night, the summerlike evening of a september day gifted with the most splendid light ever.

And so, the morning after, my father, and he alone, took me to the airport and, unlike all the countless time when he had delivered me there for my week-end visits to this or that country over the last 10 years, he parked the car and came with me on the check-in line, gave me the last recommendations and let me go, unconvincing smiles on both our lips and, at least on my side, an almost inhumane effort to keep my voice straight.

And now I'm here, in Mainz, alone (Susanne is in Berlin for a summer internship in a court of justice), to think it all over and wondering once again, but in a much stronger way than usual, if I've done the right thing after all. I hope so.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Degrees

Books have always taken a good share of my time. Admittedly, more in the past, when full weeks were spent jumping from one title to another in a breathtaking swirling of names, characters and plots that nowadays I regret a bit, than in the present.

Over the last weeks, I had the chance of falling back in the habit, that someones could rightly label as addiction, and I had the luck and pleasure of engaging in books almost all falling in the second and perhaps even third degree. Thinking about it, I suppose, that doesn't really mean anything if one doesn't know the four degree of books, right? Then I shall go on and expose my personal (or maybe relatively personal, as I do not exclude that someone else has elaborated the same theory in a parallel and independent way, as it often happens with the great things of human life like the telephone and the infinitesimal calculus) theory.

All the books, but especially narrative books, are divided depending the signs that they leave upon someone's soul, a bit like fire and related burns.

First degree books are the bad ones. Even admitting one manages to finish them, and the real reader usually forces himself to, they will leave nothing behind, but a bad taste and the feeling of wasting time. Second hand book stands are full of such books, abandoned soon after having been picked up, or right after their cellophane envelope. The first degrees books have the peculiarity of being as numerous as the locust and yet impossible to name, as the mind usually forgets their title, and often their authors' name as well, as fast as humanely possible, and sometimes even faster, to the point that it is not unheard of the case of the reader who, so forgetful of the experience, ended up buying the same book twice, providing it is presented with a totally different cover, only to realize after the first pages the terrible mistake.

Second degree books are the pleasant ones. They are like the beer in a sunny day, as they are refreshing and yet of no particular importance if not for the time they spend in your hand, and often they have to be finished quickly, before the coolness evaporates. Moreover, like they beer, they disappear quickly and are often forgotten, and yet they leave something behind, even if it is in the back of our mind rather than around our waists. For instance, the lines suddenly popping up in the middle of a discussion, when something incisive is needed to describe something, even if the precise source of the quote often escapes us, are probably coming from a second degree books which are, most likely, the majority of the books we will read during our life.

Third degree books are the ones that leave permanent scars. They are life fire, and yet the fascinating phenomenon with them is that, unlike the fire, people who have been too close to a third degree book tend to repeat the experience. No, they do crave to repeat the experience actually, often re-reading the same book and anything else written by its author, hoping, all too often ending up frustrated, to find the same sensation under a different name. Third degree books are the ones where you are never sure whether the book passed his belief to you, or rather if you liked the book because it shares your own beliefs. Third degree books are like a whole meal, not only it contributes to your muscles, nourishes your neurons and produces the energy everything works with, but also add to the skeleton that keeps everything up, and one should never forget the old saying, which is often more true with books than with real food, that one is what he eats.

Finally, there are the fourth degree books. Rare. Precious. Almost all of them come from that mystical and mythical age everyone passes through between the disclosure of Santa's secret and the discovery of your own mortality, simply because before the earlier everything works its own inner peculiar magic and after the latter nothing does ever again, except the occasional miracle. Fourth degree books are the ones that end leaving you an immense sense of loss, and yet never really end, as you carry them along with you all the time. Fourth degree books are the ones that, not only makes you want to read forever, but makes you want to write yourself and, at the very least, makes you think in a written way for a while, making see yourself and your actions as if being narrated by a third person. To say that they make you better would be a sheer banality, as they actually make you, period. Some books of this category teach you more than a professor, they tell you more about life, at least the life that should be, more than many friends. I've even heard some teach you more than your parents do.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Done and Done

With less than 14 days to go until my moving to Germany, I'm starting to sort out the things to do and check them out. Week-end was obviously not a very productive time and yet...

- One way ticket to Germany, 14th September, 8.20 am. Done.

- Completing the summer readings, meaning at least 2 Stephen King's book. Done.

Yes, I know, summer ends the 21st of september, but I've always considered it closed the 1st of september and therefore I was quite happy I managed, barely in time, to perform my rite of reading. On friday, in fact, I got "Hearts in Atlantis" in my hands and read it from one end to the other over the day, finding it one of the best books by Stephen Kings just as well as one of the least Stephen King-like (except some supernatural in the first tale and in the last lines, the rest is pretty down to earth) and, sadly, finding myself in one of the characters, named Peter Riley (why, I won't tell, you'll have to read the book and guess, if you are curious). Just to make a big leap from one genre to the other, once finished King, being it september and thus summer over, I took up John Keegan's "War and Our World". Not bad so far.

Besides that, I've been dealing with Statistics, I've planned a trip to Berlin for the third week-end of september and then moved it to the last (which was lucky, as I had forgotten that the third week-end was already taken by some university activity) and then spent almost 2 hours figuring put the site of the german railways and booking the tickets (the site is, obviously, in german only).

With 8 days of work to go (the next two fridays I will use my last remaining off days), it's a strange monday to be a my desk, as my mind is in many places, but surely not on the folders in front of me.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A p-squared weekend

That means, a week-end of panic and preparations. Being the last week-end spent in Germany ahead of the semi-permanent move (that, at this point, it's likely to be the 14th morning, even if I still haven't got the ticket) and considering that when I will move to Germany I will be on my own for a few weeks, the days were spent in preparing a few things and fine tuning the daily routines.

So it was that we headed to the bicycle shop to have my ride, bought to be a summer week-ends tool, turned into an all purpose, all seasons piece of machinery (which means, new tyres, a retouch to the gears, new tail lamp and such things).

It was then time to hit the hypermarkets in order to make a copy of the mailbox key, buying hangers, a few things for the kitchen, mosquito nets (strongly wanted by Susanne and put in place by me on sunday) and a 5 kgs-heavy de-humidifier set, all to be brought home, by lack of a car, by sheer arms' strength and the occasional bus.

Then it was grocery shopping time where, alon with the usual few kilos of fruit, we stumbled in the little piece of furniture for the kitchen we had meant to buy a few weeks ago but that had ran out before we managed to put our hands upon. Should I mention that the kit weighted a good 10 kgs? And so there we go, assembling the little thing following images-only instructions put together by a true surrealist artist. Then, as I was cooking, she proceeded to re-arrange her wardrobe to leave room for my own stuff to come (and actually partially arrived there already over the last two visits... basically all my heaviest stuff is already over there, together with underwear, socks and a pair of shoes).

Finally, on sunday, it came the feared (by me) and sadistically enjoyed (by Susanne and, as demonstrated by her unstoppable laughter, my mother) "how to clean the house, the sanitaries, the laundry and deal with the (obviously differentiated) trash" moment. Once settled the matter with the various soaps and tools, agreed on schedules, duties' division, economic settlements, rent, bills and settled on further revising the sleeping quarter's situation (we both agreed that the power of love can not overcome the uncomfortableness of sleeping in a 90 cms wide bed for a 4 to 6 months long period), we got to the final, touching, moment: the writing of the new signs for the entry phone and the mailbox (with her name above mine, obviously). I must say, it was... not without some emotion on my part (but, I think, on her side as well) that we glanced upon the shining new tag.

That's for the preparations, but where's the panic, you'd ask. Well, it happened that on saturday I put my hands on one of my future textbooks, the one for the statistics and econometrics's unit. As I opened the book and saw it filled with the most intricate mathematical formulas I had ever faced I couldn't hold a groan as a panic that I hadn't felt since the Economics exam back in university, years and years ago (the only exam I failed twice and that, when I finally passed, I exorcised by burning the books crying "never again").

Such is my horror and fear that I resolved to the unthinkable, I turned to my scientifically minded (and mathematical analysis certified) brother who, after admitting that statistics was his second most despised subject after analysis, agreed to give me a refresh (a refresh!? more like a fresh start) over the slightly less than three weeks I still have to spend here. I'm at page 20 of 300 and my panic isn't but growing steadily, or, rather, proportionately to a dependant variable based on a given positive parameter applied to the independent constant of the mathematical hardship I'm facing. Grim times to come...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Goodbye to a friend

We haven't known each other for long, little more than a week perhaps, and yet in such a short time I got to know about his whole life, his adventures, his hopes, his frustrations and his world, so different, even if related to mine. Now he is gone, last of a series of friends who come, leave a mark and then disappear. His name was Arn, he was Swedish, coming from a little place called Arnas, and he's now dead. Well, dead for a good seven hundreds years really.

And for the ones who, again, think I've lost a couple of wednesdays, I will immediately put your worries at ease, he is a fictional character in a series of historical novels collectively called "The Crusade trilogy" telling the story of Arn Magnusson, a fictional character of middle age Sweden, brother and relative of various other historical characters like Eskil Magnusson or Birger Brosa.

Not everyone can understand how fictional characters can become dear to someone as real life person, sometimes more. I pity, truly, the ones who don't feel the sadness, and sometimes the pain, of reading the last line of the last book telling the tales of some character that over the time, be it long or short, became familiar and close to us. The ones who, on the other hand, can understand me know that we make a little and special brotherhood and probably all of us have a special affection to the Neverending Story of Michael Ende as all of us must have imagined at least once to just jump into a book and live the adventures along our fictional friends and, more importantly, that a story would, in fact, never end for real.

Personally, the first character I left with downright pain was Long John Silver of the Treasure Island. I was perhaps ten years old and it was a sad goodbye and yet full of hopes, actually, as he escaped a certain death at the gallows for unknown adventures. And it was a lucky goodbye too as, by chance, two decades later I found out a little, great, book called "Long John Silver" by Swedish author called Bjorn Larsson who gave me the chance of another meeting with my childhood controversial hero.

Over the years a few characters (and consequently, books) took their place next to the one legged charismatic pirate: most of the Lord of the Rings' characters (and, even now, I think that Tolkien was so wise to tell of the death of most of them in the book's appendices, despite the chocking feeling I felt reading of the voluntary death of Aragorn and of the desperate and lonely fading away of Arwen), Iliad's Hector and, to some lesser extent, Achilles, Aeneas, Wilfred of Ivanhoe and Robin of Locksley, Tom Builder and Jack Shareburg from The Pillars of the Earth, Atreyu and Falkor (while I never really loved Bastian Balthazar Bux probably out of sheer envy), Merlin and Uther as depicted by Jack Whyte, William Adams and Dirk Struan, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin (of whom I still have to read a handful of tales) and so on a few more, moving between different ages and universes, until, for now, Arn Magnusson the templar and marshal.

So, a fond goodbye Arn, if there is a heaven for fictional charachter, I know you are there in good company.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vacations... vacations?

Due the fact that the majority of my off-days from work will be used this year to cover the first two weeks of the upcoming master, I was left with a handful of days to rest this year. Truly, I had thought of having just two of them, before recalling, too late to plan something, that another three had been left as a reserve.

Anyway, one way or the other, the plan for the summer had already been laid a couple of months ago and so it was that Susanne came down to Rome last monday evening in order to stay the whole Ferragosto (the 15th of august is so called, coming from the "feriae augustae", the day of celebration for the emperor Augustus) week and on tuesday, on an overburdened scooter, right after the end of my working day, we travelled the 104 kms between my house and the seaside cottage. It wasn't a particularly comfortable travel, truly, with her backpack between my legs and every possible space filled with the stuff that would had been used in the next 7 days and, probably, between the scooter itself, two people and the luggage my shoulders had to sustain more than 250 kgs when it came to turning, but the weather was fine and company was the best possible, and the about two hours it took were somewhat quick to pass.

In the evening, I introduced Susanne to one of the traditions we have, the night bonfires that we have the 14th august at night. It was a pretty under-tone one as it wasn't possible to organize it properly from Rome, but anyway, there we were with the company of a handle of friends, joined later by some acquaintances and a bunch of totally unknown people. Alcohol abounded, even if we barely touched it, the fire was going (and I was pretty proud of it, being that I was the responsible for that) and laying down in the sand next to if was nice enough. However, between the chill of the night that prevented the typical midnight bath, the lack of interest in games that, honestly, are made more as an excuse for couple to form than anything else, and perhaps my years, more numerous than expected to enjoy such nights, we were the first ones to leave as the soon extinguished.

The next days were relaxing, even if full of events. Besides the oddity of having a girlfriend that, regardless of the hour we had gone to bed, woke up every single morning before 8 to take a one hour long run (that I joined once to carry the consequences even now...), most of the time was spent at the beach, in afternoon siestas and, for me, reading. The closes village's festival, a visit to Sabaudia - an interesting little town nearby -, meetings with old friends and fireworks were all part of the week, together with food, more food and even more food (I took 2 damn kilos in a little more than 10 days, which will take months to get rid of, if ever...).

On friday, I went to pay homage to my only surviving grandparent, my mom's mom, who's living with her youngest daughter in her husband's estate. It had been a while since my last visit and it was very pleasant, even because we spent hours in the swimming pool where the water was above 30 degrees.

Sunday came way too soon and with it the time to repack everything and take the trip back, once again on an overloaded scooter, and the week was closed with a dinner to our usual restaurant and a walk (quite painful for me, honestly, due the consequences of the jogging) around Trastevere and the Tiberine island. Monday morning, after little or none sleep, we headed to the airport and then, on my own again, back to work, with the thought at this coming friday, when I'll fly to Germany for the last time before my definitive move for the Master's first semester.

And so went my vacations, besides the three days off that right now I have no clue about how to use... any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Seaside and more seaside

While work was expected to be even more on the madness level last week after our department got assigned to be directly under CEO's supervision, unexpectedly the days went by with little or nothing to do. Apparently, the CEO himself was pleased enough with the heads he had had the past friday and decided to slow down and eventually to go on vacation yesterday. So it happened that last week was a slow one, dedicated mostly to friends and eventually I got to the seaside for the week-end, which turned out to be quite relaxing.

On friday, I was taken by my parents to a charity dinner held in the village closest to our house. It was pleasant and I felt incredibly young considering that, set aside a couple of dozen of kids under 10 years old, I was definitely the youngest person around. Food was agreeable, served on long tables where one had to sit randomly, so to encourage meeting new people, as it actually happened. Fact is, I was so tired (probably an adrenaline drop after the past weeks) that at 10, as people moved to dance and the (folk and slow) music was filling the air, I fell asleep on my chair to be awakened some time later by my parents on their way home.

Saturday was unfortunately a cloudy day, which ruled out the beach, and was spent mostly on the renewal works of the house (my father has almost finished re-painting the whole thing) and gardening, not to mention reading, which allowed me to indulge in one of my favourite activities: picking a book and finishing it within 36 hours (in this case, "The Road to Jerusalem" by Jan Guillou).

It was only in sunday that I finally hit the beach and, surprisingly, my brother joined us as well for a hit and run visit that was concluded with the two of us boarding the train back to Rome in the early evening. All in all, I probably spent more time sleeping than anything else, and for a good reason: yesterday evening Susanne arrived to stay for the week and we are moving back to the seaside later today. 5 days of beach, swimming, beach-volley and any sport that can be practiced at the seaside is to be expected...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

News, news and more news

As it is happening more and more often lately, news keep coming and sometimes I don't seem to be able to keep up with them. Surely I'm not able to keep up with my blogging, at least. The strange thing is that everything should be slowing down for the summer and while apparently it is so all around me (for instance, there's almost no one on the street when I get to the office, which is currently half empty itself), still, things seem to happen faster than I can fully grasp.

So, news:

a) while my talk with the HR manager at work had more than suggested that I would had never got the leave of absence that I needed for the Master (the sentence "I expect the resignation letter to be presented within the contract terms, if you decide so" didn't leave much maneuvering space), a subsequent intervention by the labor unions, supported by my own boss (not really by my own manager, which came as a bitter surprise) turned the tide. Effective from the 1st of October and for 16 months, I'm on an authorized (unpaid) leave, to resume work as of 1st February 2009.

b) still at work, the absurd pace that had characterized the last week of July had just got worse in august (and it's only too ironic that I'm making myself a name around here barely weeks before moving away). That was also coupled with a revolution of the firm's organization announced last Friday in which 6 out of 8 of the top manager lost their place. Among the casualties, my own manager, the one who had facilitate my moving to my new department and with whom I used to play football once in a while. Despite his lack of intervention on my behalf in the leave of absence's deal (which, thinking of it, might had been caused by his already fragile position), that was still a sad thing. The 50 or so second-line managers are now expecting to see what it's in store for them.

c) finally, I managed to get to the seaside, for a weekend. The result was another decent burn on my back, the second this year (I'm either getting too careless or too old, I used to spend hours in the sun without consequences once upon a time), when I suddenly fell asleep under the son at noon, waking up about one hour later. Besides that, I met some friends I hadn't seen in years, given that the past summers my visits at the sea have been sporadic, at best.

d) I found out that in my planning of the summer and allotment of my off-days I had totally forgot 3 days I had in store. Now, since I do have to use it within the 15th of September or lose them without compensation, I have to decide what to do. Obviously, I'd like to spend them with Susanne, but she might be busy with a stage and I will know only at the very last moment, so the second best option would be to gather Alessandro, Sergio and Francesco and do as we once used to, travelling around. Problem is, Francesco will be in Argentina until the end of September so he has to be ruled out and Alessandro will be back from US only at the beginning of the month and will probably be unable to take more days away from his law firm. Besides, where to? I'd love to go to the Baltic, Tallinn, Stockholm or Helsinki being the places coming first to mind, but.. who knows?

e) there's a new born in the family, the first of the new generation. My mom's junior sister's daughter (my cousin, my mom's niece) finally (she's 38) gave birth to a baby girl called Elisa, an event that was met with all the joy that can be expected and by my mother not even so hidden jealousy. We tried to explain her that, yes, it's her younger sister who became a grand mom, but she even had the brilliant idea of becoming mom at 18, rather than waiting, as my mom did, to be 30 to give birth to her first son, but apparently the argument isn't too effective with her. Considering my own position at the moment, she will have to place her hopes on my brother. Anyway, I just hope Elisa will not be baptized when I'll already be abroad, I'd hate to miss the ceremony, even considering that her grandparents are my godparents.

f) finally, I managed to read a book again, which might sound strange, but was indeed becoming painful. So it happens that in a matter of days I devoured the whole Chronicles of Narnia cycle (which was definitely in a different style than I expected, but immensely enjoyable anyway) and then I started my summer reading with a Stephen King book, the Regulators, which was kind of disappointing and barely decent. Now, I had sent the books on top of my "to read" list to the seaside with my parents as I was expected to be there as well the last week-end, a plan that crumbled under the forced staying at my office till very late on Friday so: what to read now?

And that's about it for now... back to work!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Delirio

After a week end of the not exactly relaxing kinds (among the rest, my first goodbye dinner organized by my fellow novaromans), the beginning of the week saw me at my office desk on monday from 8.30 am until 9.30 pm and on tuesday from 8.20 am until 11.05 pm. Making a couple off additions (which, in my current state of mind, is not actually easy), that means that between 8.30 am of monday and 11.05 pm of tuesday I've been working 29 out of 39 hours.

That's why I'm in a bit of a haze now, that I'm back again at my desk at 8.30 of wednesday and the reason why I've been neglecting emails, IMs, books, friends.. just about everything.

As it is said here in these cases: "Delirio...".

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

As was meant to be demonstrated

Theory: one can't resist his own nature.

Demonstration: As time for reading waned over the last months and the little I had over the last 2 months was used for a book I can't manage to read past page 170, I had decided not to visit my bookshop in order to avoid piling up books next to my bed, books that I would probably have to abandon in September upon my moving to Germany.

It was a wise choice, a practical choice and, not to be overlooked, an economically savvy one. But...

Today, 37 Celsius, lunch skipped in favor of a big and cold ice cream, 30 minutes left of my lunch break, what else could had i done, together with my closest friend at work, then walking to the air-conditioned bookshop?

So I entered, just to give a look at the covers and perhaps read a page here and one there... and 30 minutes later I got out with the burden of 7 books in my hand and a wallet 40 € lighter.

As was meant to be demonstrated.

VCN Ethnic Dinners go to USA

The last VCN dinner before summer break saw a reduced group of VCNers heading to a Tex-mex restaurant, after having realized that an argentinian dinner, in any of such restaurant would had been way over the dinners' usual budget.

With numbers dwindling gradually as the summer advanced (probably the heat calls more for open-air barbecue rather than indoor dinners, even if with air conditioning), it was a little group of a dozen persons that met at the T-Bone Station near Piazza Barberini in a pretty warm and damp evening.

The place, however, turned out to be pleasantly cool and arranged, in the intention of the owner at least, as an american bar with tables able to host 6 persons aligned along the wall (down the corridor, in the picture).

The menu had a wide selection of (mostly fried) appetizers, hamburgers, different cuts of meat (included the one and a half kilo "T-Bone and King cut" steak), salads, nachos, fajitas, wraps, chili and so on and so forth, all with accompanying sauces.

A pleasant surprise was the fact that, when one of our members, finding the meat he was served not up to the expectations, had left almost all of that in the dish, the waiter ran to inform himself about the problem and immediately offered a new dish, free of charge.

All in all, the dinner was a pleasant one and the food agreeable, if not exactly light (I think just the sauces served with my wraps would had covered a full dinner's quantity of calories and fat). Bill was reasonable too, which is always a good thing. Out of the dozen people present, only one was a newcomer, while the other 11 fairly represented what, over the months, has became the core of the VCN dinners.

Given the evident trend in presence, it was decided to suspend the dinners until september, when I'll organize my last dinner before leaving to Germany. For the occasion, i decided to go back from where I took over: Erithrean.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Back to Italy, for now, and the week-end past.

If you were wondering what had happened to me after the Poltergeist incident of the other day, relax, I'm fine.

Week-end in Germany was indeed very nice, even because we (Susanne and me) celebrated our second anniversary with a ferry-cruise along the Rhein river (where, much to my surprise, I ended up half burnt by the German sun reflected by the water), getting a look at the famous Loreley rock and a dozen different castles, then a walk in the pretty and extremely characteristic Rüdesheim am Rhein and its Drosselgasse and eventually a dinner at my favourite restaurant in Mainz, for once opened, taking a table outside in the square looking at the back of the majestic Cathedral of the city. If my sweet half (that's a direct translation from the Italian "dolce metà") remembers to send me the pictures of the day, I shall post a few of them.

On Sunday, right before leaving to the airport, I got the chance of meeting one of my future classmates, Anna, a pretty interesting person who defined herself as a tailor studying business management. For as odd as such a definition may sound, it actually makes sense in a world where fashion design tends to be just as much, if not more, business than a form of art. Besides, that, If all the other future colleagues will have such interesting backgrounds, I'll end up being the boring one and the time in Mainz will be a definitely interesting one.

Anyway, speaking of Mainz, I must say that since I know I will have to live there for several months, I'm looking at the city with different eyes than the ones of a simple passer by, and yet the result is still greatly positive. Hoping we'll not have a very cold winter, I think I might really enjoy staying there for a while, in a totally different dimension than the one I've lived all my life.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Strange things happening

Premise: I believe in God, the immortal soul and in several concepts derived from that and I believe in paranormal phenomenons as things we are not yet able to explain, but nothing more. I'm not a lunatic maniac either, as the ones who know me among the ones who read this blog know.

That said, why, one hour ago, I did see the metallic cover of the shower box drain hole move a good twenty centimeters by itself on the shower floor, with rhythmic jumps that slowly did fade off once the thing had stopped in its final position? There was no heart quake, no air flow for how strange it could had been to create such a precise and rhythmic movement and no insects hidden under it and the whole thing made the hair on the back of my head rise. And why in my mailbox there is a mail for the former tenant of this place, gone more than two years ago? And why such creepy things happen on a Friday the 13th and when I have to catch a flight?

That was one of the creepiest things I've ever experienced and I'm now nervous about flying. Ummm....

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Japanese Night

A couple of days ago I happened to find myself, for a while, in Japan. Nah, I am sane, don't worry, at least my brain is (other things aren't and in fact I'm home even if it's Wednesday). The fact is, I ended up near Campo dei Fiori at a table alone with 4 girls all of them speaking Japanese. The fact that two of said girls were Italian didn't spoil the moment, even because they are so fully into the Japanese language and culture that even their tone and gesture (for instance, they instinctively covered their mouth when laughing, a typical Japanese thing) was more similar to their Japanese friends than to the ones proper of our culture.

The excuse for the "aperitivo" (at the Aristocampo, as usual) was the end of Lucia's exam session and her consequent leaving for Japan for a two months summer vacation. Oh, of course... who? Lucia is a nice Italian girl I met by the way of Yoko (a Japanese teacher and a regular, if not a fixture, to the VCN etnic dinners) who studies Japanese ans is practically dying for moving to live in Osaka. Now, between this lifelong ambition of hers and considering she'll be returning at the end of September on one and and that at the mid of September I will be moving out of Italy for over a year on th eother hand, we decided that the chance of that evening being the last one in which we could had met until 2009, at the least, was well worth a mid-week drink.

How it happened, tho, that I was the only boy sitting at that table, I still have to understand. Lucia's boyfriend didn't show up as he doesn't enjoy international company speaking a language that he doesn't understand (and, considering a given barbecue I had recently in Germany, I feel inclined to understand, if not sympathize with, him) and neither other male friends summoned did made it. Anoher boy, a friend of a friend, did arrive at the table only to leave 5 minutes later to a square nearby where a concert was being held.

Not that I complain. Having been trained to hours in the presence of people who speak a language I do not understand I tend to get restless only after at least 8 hours (my recently estabilished record at this time being 14 but, quoting a famous movie, reaching that level is possible, but not advisable), so 4 hours of mixed japaneglischitalian was nothing to be afraid of. Besides, I just came out of a period of intense fascination for the Japanese culture marked by the reading of Shogun and Gai-Jin by Clavell and the repeated visions of The Last Samurai together with the occasional Babel, Last letters from Jiwo-Jima and a couple of Kurosawa's movies so... it was even fascinating to hear the sound of the actual language.

And it was fun, I must say. So much that after two liters of red wine, two trays of mixed hams and cheeses and a couple of light cocktails, we decided we had to head to the Tiberina Island where, being summer, there are once again little bars offering more than averagely expensive cocktails, dubiously comfortable pillows to sit upon, but a very nice and charmy atmosphere (when not overcrowded) and where we stayed until 2 am.

All fun, truly, and yet, on my way back to the scooter, I did pass in front of "our" (Susanne and me) church, where everything started almost exactly two years ago (in the first hours of the 15th of July) and couldn't help dropping her a "missing you" message... because it's true, don't laugh at me, I found out, not without my own surprise, that I can be alone in the company of 4 girls and still think of and miss my girl. I must be getting old...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Bad news, good news

So, as the old custom goes, bad news first (why? because the sugar in the end makes the bitter better? What if one is already in a bad mood and beheads the messenger before he gets to the good news? Anyway...).

It is now official that my firm has denied me a leave of absence in order to attend the master programme. Although I knew that such outcome had always been possible, part of me had been keeping in believing that a rational solution to the situation would had been chosen. In fact, while being away, I would had cost nothing to the firm (not even the social security costs) and thus I saw no point in a negative outcome. So much for rationality, considering I was not even paid the courtesy of a talk with the HR director.

So it is that, barring some unpredictable event or going to court for a case that is, to say the least, dubious, by the 14th of august I shall have to present my resignation letter and consequently I shall be unemployed by next October. Quite a way to celebrate my birthday.

The good news is that Susanne's landlord not only has manifested no contrariety to me staying with her over the months I shall be in Mainz, but he has not even raised the rent, much to our surprise. That, besides the obvious satisfaction of being able to stay with Susanne (which is obviously the main thing), will allow me to lower my estimated living costs for the first year of the programme of almost a thousand euros, bringing it from 10.200 to 9.500. Some little thing per se, but still...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Flash

I'm in Mainz, at the University, at 9.20 pm. I'm at a huge open-air party called sommerfest (the summer party) where basically thousands of university students (the ranks of whom I will soon join again) stroll along among stands that sell food and various kind of alcohol while university bands plays mostly heavy metal and punk rock, which I absolutely despise.

It's the 29 of June and, coming from the 30-something degrees of a sunny Rome, I found myself in less than 20 degrees and rain with nothing serious to cover myself. Whenever Susanne meets someone, a strictly german-only talk ensues. Finally, I'm in the office of AIESEC, the students' association that, at least in Rome, was the mortal enemy of my own association, ELSA.

All that said... I'm having a blast.

Friday, June 22, 2007

VCN Ethnic Dinners go to India

(click pictures to enlarge) The 11th Ethnic Dinner took the VCN ED crew back to India, which was last visited for Vietnam, and, for the first time, saw the event co-organized by two persons: Andrea (right) who dealt with the restaurant and myself dealing with the email exchanges and information. Honestly, hadn't it been for Andrea (who, coincidentally, joined the group at the previous asian dinner), the dinner would had never taken place as I was too busy with what's going on in my office and my leave of absence' request.

The restaurant chosen was in the middle of the Monti neighborhood, not too far from my office and in one of the most downtown zones of the city. The name of the place is "Guru" and it has the misfortune to be just two door next one of the most famous (and expensive) indian restaurants of the city, the "Maharajah". The restaurant, in my opinion, comes out well in a comparison anyway. It's small, tidy (as it was noticed even by the most careful ones among the girls of our little company) and the only bad side is that the place feels hot, perhaps even due the spicy food, and the waiters didn't help by forgetting to turn on the air conditioners.

The menu was a mix of meat and vegetable dishes, spicy but, according to the most sensitive ones of the table, "just as much" (and served with a series of sauces, just in case someone wanted to enhance or dim the spiciness). The vegetarians got a couple of separate dishes just for themselves.

Unfortunately, the names of the actual plates are unknown, but we started with a green soup which was really appreciated, followed by two different kinds of vegetarian croquettes which vaguely reminded of arab felafels. The first meat came in the work of Tandoori chicken and some spicy chicken balls. Then it was the time of rice, three different kind of beef meats presented in several different sauces (one in particular of these dishes was in absolute my favourite).

The food, it must be said, was not only of good quality and excellent taste, but so abundant that much was left at the end of the dinner, as it hadn't happened since the last peruvian dinner. Some indian beer was also present on the table, but I cannot say much about that as I didn't try it.

The company was less numerous than usual, maybe due the very late announcement made (on friday) or the summer period not encouraging evenings spent within 4 walls. Fact is, we were a pretty manageable 15 people, made of 6 italians, 2 each for Canada and UK and 1 from Brazil, Egypt, USA, Philippines and the Netherlands.

At the end of the dinner, everything was almost ruined by an idiot driving a Porsche speeding in the narrow streets and bumping with his rear-view mirror against Rachelle's elbow. Nothing serious, luckily, but still...

Anyway, next stop, probably, Argentina!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When the market is imperfect and the master gets in the picture.

One of the criteria that define a perfect market is the full and complete knowledge by the actors of the elements of the markets, most notably prices and information.

Now, what does it have to do with me. Yesterday I faxed my acceptance of the place that was offered to me to the MSC-IB programme. Today I was supposed to go transferring the 1st semester's fee, but a technicality (called work) prevented me, which is not a big deal as I will do that tomorrow morning. Those two acts, together with the subscription of a health insurance, will seal my fate for the period going from mid September 2007 until later January 2009.

And here it comes the imperfect market. Not only I'm jumping into his thing without a real and objective knowledge of what this programme will be able to give me in term of work opportunities, but I'm doing it without even knowing, still, if I'll be able to keep my job as a backdrop plan, as my HR department failed to answer my request for a sabbatical year within the deadline I had. Practically speaking, in a matter of months I will probably find myself with no sure future and no sure past to get back to.

Most of my friends, when they hear I'm going forward regardless, make a strange face when they do not tell me right away that I'm insane leaving a "sure place". Considering the European job market in general and the Italian one in particular they might actually be right. Between the mere chance of a better future and the reality of a steady job with benefits and health coverage paying already one and a half times the average Italian salary (although with little or none prospective of career), most of them would just go for the second, if faced with a "either or" choice.

But, ironically enough, even if at times the idea of a possible, total, utter disaster clouds my thoughts, that's the least of my concerns. Maybe is my Italian side, but I'm more concerned about leaving my family: a triple-bypassed father who thinks he can do just about everything someone in his twenties can do and a mother who is already showing the signs of the typical Italian motherly "he's leaving home" crisis. I'm concerned by the lack of information about their well being while I will be away and if everything will be ok with them.

I'm more concerned, and my mother got it perfectly right by instinct just as well as some friends of mine, that should I leave without a place to get back to, I would be forced to look for a job while abroad and consequently stay there indefinitely. The lack of information about where I will end up troubles me more than the lack of the one about what I will be doing, I do not know why.

Then, I'm concerned by something that most of my friends, well, the not Italian ones at least, take for granted, meaning living on my own and even worse, even if I hope so, with someone else, at least for the months I'll be spending in Germany. I do not know if it happens to all the ones who leave their house for the first time or only to overly pampered guys in their 30s, but the idea of being on my own for the menial tasks of grocery shopping, cooking and, my goodness, ironing is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Having to keep a straight balance and make ends meet without having incomes worries me more than having to sit through lessons taught in a foreign language.

And yet, I'm eager to start and put myself to the test. I just want to see if I can, after years my brain has been working at 10% of its capacity (at most), face university once again and in subjects that are not even vaguely familiar to me (and some even scaring, like finance... me and maths have always been a troubled relationship). To boldly go where no friend of mine has gone before and face hurdles and challenges that, as I said, makes some of them tell me straight on my face that I'm crazy.

To be honest, I'm also praying God I'm not making the greatest mistake of my, at this point not even that short, life...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Alea Iacta Est

Ok, I'm not moving war against the Roman Republic (soon to become empire) as Caesar was while allegedly uttering those words, but, anyway, yesterday I submitted my request for a sabbatical year (and something) in order to take part in the master programme.

Despite several people telling me that, as long as my boss and direct superior agree, the request is but a formality and having, more or less, made up my mind of going in any case, I can't but admit I'm nervous. If nothing else, there is the fact that effective from the 1st of June we do have a new HR manager about whom no one knows anything about. How funny to be a case study for the labor unions representatives at work...

On indirectly related news, to release some o the tension yesterday I finally managed to get back to my pool and found it, finally, uncovered. I must say it was quite something to swim under the (late afternoon) sun rather than under a heavy Kevlar white tent. The downside is that, having schools ended last friday, the pool was semi-crowded with teens who have nothing better to do and doing my 100 legs was at time more a slalom trial than a swimming one.

Yet, I hope to manage going there again today...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

News and great hopes...

Indeed, my blogging entries have plummeted since I changed department at work. No more blogging from work, and that's probably a good thin as it means I'm much more busy then I was before, with more work, more responsibilities and colleagues who keep me busy.

It is, then, quite ironic that, after three years spent doing nothing due what probably could be labelled as mobbing, it is right now that I'm busy that something I have been thinking forever and most especially over the last two years might eventually come true: studying abroad.

In fact, last tuesday I flew to Mainz for the final interview in order to be admitted to the Master of Science in International Business which is organized in cooperation between the London South Bank University and the Fachhochschule of Mainz. The interview was quick, the test that followed pretty easy, or at least so I thought, and I was offered a place right after.

So it was that in the evening I flew back home thinking of the main obstacle that is now between me and what has been for years a dream of mine: how to took part to the programme without losing my job in the process. In fact, the programme is supposed to last for 15 months, three months longer that the longest leave of absence that I could supposedly get from my office based on my contract.

Quite a problem, which I hope to be able to solve with the help of my bosses at work (which were quite supportive when I broke the news to them, even if my direct superior wasn't definitely thrilled) and the labor unions and basing on the discretionality that the whole matter has. And all has to be settled by the 20th of this month, date in which I shall have to confirm my participation, or giving that up.

And should I have to choose between studying and my job, if I would be put in the position of having to burn all bridges behind me? Right now, I'm leaning towards leaving in any case, yet I will have to face the moment to really know. People around me are neatly divided between the ones who think that, in case, I should keep my steady job and the ones, included (quite surprisingly, my father) who think I should go. Honestly? I hope I shall not have to make such decision...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

VCN Ethnic Dinners go to Nigeria

(Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions) The last edition of the VCN dinners marked two sort of milestones: the 10th dinner and the 1st anniversary of the dinners as a whole. And in fact, just for the chronicles:

26/05/2006: Mexican dinner (Organized by Curt Wagner)
19/10/2006: Turkish Dinner (Organized by Curt Wagner)
07/11/2006: Eritrean Dinner
28/11/2006: Thai Dinner
23/01/2007: Peruvian Dinner
20/02/2007: Greek Dinner
08/03/2007: Egyptian Dinner
22/03/2007: Vietnamese Dinner
03/04/2007: Peruvian Dinner 2
15/05/2007: Spanish Dinner
29/05/2007: Nigerian Dinner

Some things have changed over the year, pictures were taken regularly, for instance, and I tried to make the dinners more periodic, yet I hope that the spirit, the idea of meeting new people in a relaxed environment and experimenting new accents together with new dishes, still remains.

This time, to be true, what ended up to be a Nigerian dinner was originally supposed to be a Cameroonian one, but, as I found out, the restaurant, which I had discovered the September of the last year, had since been transferred and transformed.

Honestly, the dinner was not the most successful one. The dishes were oddly tasting and while I personally appreciated the Suya (spicy chicken pieces on skewers), the groundnut soup and the banga rice (rice with cream of palm nuts), some other, especially an odd looking green rice of unknown name was simply inedible with its bitter and fishy taste.


The company, on the other hand, was more mixed up and colorful then usual. A good number of "core" people was present and several new faces showed up, apparently a group of friends who decided to show up together. Table's arrangements also caused some more problems as there was no space to form a single table and, consequently, we were forced to form two. Further on, at some point I realized I had not thought of forming the vegetarian corner (quite a problem, considering Susanne is one and with our original places we would had to split) and therefore I had to re-arrange places suddenly. Finally, despite several people calling for a later beginning of the dinner, the actual choice turned out to be counter-productive as several people had to leave before the actual end of the dinner.

Eventually, 20 people did show up, with Americans for once reaching the majority together with Italians (5), followed by Brazil, Australia and France (2) and Germany, Belgium, Norway and UK with 1 each. A non perfect dinner, all in all, which forces some re-considerations about the whole formula.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Siena: a tale of hunger for culture and not only.

(Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions) Susanne is in Rome, which usually means being quite more busy and usually much less domestic than usual and this week-end made no exception to the general rule. To make good of a promise I had made more than one year ago, I finally decided to take her to Siena from where I was myself absent since 2001 and of which I had quite nice memories when it came to think about them.

Some forewords are necessary anyway. Siena is today almost universally known for the wines produced on its hills and the landscape those very hills provide and only after for it's artistic and architectural masterpieces. Fact is, Siena had two blesses: it has been awesomely rich for the past 1.000 years (usually by lending money at high interest rates to anyone needing that) while being politically insignificant for the last 500, sparing her from most of the wars that ravaged Italy and making the demolishing of old buildings to build new ones a pointless task.

The same two blesses turned into a curse when it came to logistic: Siena is not connected to the rest of the country neither by a highway nor by a train line placed on the north-south backbones of the rail system, but only by a secondary line.

Another thing about Siena and its countryside is that it is indeed one of the best places in Italy (which, obviously, means of the world) for wine and food.

That said , we embarked in this journey and selected the train as the transport of choice, mainly to avoid having to drive after what I expected to be a major banquet of Chianti and local hams.
Of course, we woke up at 6 am on a saturday to take the first train. Obviously, the train departing from Rome was one hour and a quarter late. It goes without saying that we missed the connection to the train heading to Siena which eventually caused us to arrive in Siena well past noon which, in turn, would had devastating consequences over the rest of the day.

In the meanwhile, on the train taking us to Siena (a new one, paid probably by the city of Siena and looking like the interior of a Star Trek shuttle) the funny moment was brought about by a couple of young americans in their early twenties who boarded the train without waiting for their parents and, obviously, did lack the reflex of jumping down as the train started leaving the platform before they had got reunited. It followed a funny exchange between the two that ended with our offer of helping them in the remote hypothesis that a ticket controlled had came about (which, obviously, didn't happen).

By noon, as said, we were in Siena and we headed straight to the main square of the city, Piazza del Campo, and, for the first time in my life, up its 84 meters (and 400 something steps) tall bell tower, called "La Torre del Mangia" from where we enjoyed an impressive view of the city and witnessed a japanese tourist looking down and then collapsing out of vertigoes. To be noted that at the beginning of the ascension there is this large sign saying that the place isn't suggested for people suffering of heart problems, giddiness, claustrophobia and similar niceties. The sign is not to be taken lightly, as indeed the height is impressive and the steps taking to the top platform are steep and running into such narrow corridors with such low ceiling that even I, despite my far from gigantic height, had some problems. The view from above is, however, truly magnificent.

Once climbed down from the tower, we headed for the palace, famous especially for the XIV centuries frescoes that, unlike many other operas of the same period which were over painted as the stylistic fashion changed over the centuries, here remained at their place.

By the time we had managed to finish the visit it was already 2 pm. Having arrived so late in Siena we took a decision that, by insight, turned out to be dramatically wrong: we decided to head for the cathedral by the way of a long sweep of the Eastern side of the city and only afterwards heading for a restaurant.

Not like the cathedral of Siena is not worth a visit as it is actually a majestic example of italian gothic. Originally thought to be only the right transect of the real cathedral (which, map at hand, should had taken almost one third of the whole city), the cathedral remained what it is now due the black death and the consequent economic crisis. Still, it's immense for such a relatively small city and contains incredibly works of art, among which the Piccolomini Library, the pulpit, not to mention those you would actually walk over if they hadn't fenced them: some incredible marble tarsias and mosaics, some dating back to the mid of the XIV century. Also the baptistery is commendable and, from the external, would look like a separate church by itself.

The problem was that, unknown to us poor tourists, the restaurants of Siena, and I mean every single one to them to the very last, close inexorably at 2.30 pm to open again to the public (but quite sadistically, at times, leaving the door open to raise the hopes of the hungry passer by, to crush them right after) only at 7.00 pm, not a minute earlier.

So it was that, after having walked for more than a hour in the desperate search of food in one of the shrines of italian tastes, we had to give up and resolved to just have an icecream, much to my desperation, which we ended up consuming in a typical Sienese fashion: sitting down on the brick floor of Piazza del Campo. The good side of this misadventure - one has always to find a good side - was that, in the quest for a place, we actually got to see many corners of the city that one would normally not even imagine the existence of.

The long search and the icecream pretty much ended the trip, as another short walk around brought us close to the time for our chosen train back home. At least the trip back went as planned, with trains being reasonably in line with their schedule and eventually making it back around 11 pm.

The hunger for culture and art was satisfied, the stomach's one, well... maybe next time.

Friday, May 25, 2007

God is in the details...

... and happiness in the small things, like:
  • having your girlfriend arriving in a few hours to stay almost a week;
  • preparing a day trip to Siena (tomorrow) which promises to be full of culture, good wine and good food;
  • having managed for 4 days (5 with today, I hope) to swim for 2,5 kms without suffering too much;
  • having discovered a place near the office that makes a pretty agreeable durum kebap;
  • having re-discovered that the closeby icecream place still makes quite good fruit icecreams;
  • having being called for scheduling an interview with the Admission Tutor of the LSBU the very same day they got my Master application papers (I don't know why, but I want to take it as a positive sign);
  • *and* having had a very supportive reaction from my job's boss as I went to tell him about the possibility of taking a year off from work (ok, it's mostly up to the HR department, but having your boss ready to back you up makes it quite better).
So yes, happiness is in the small things.

Friday, May 18, 2007

VCN Ethnic Dinners go to Spain

(click pictures to enlarge) The 9th edition of the VCN ethnic dinner moved back to Europe, but stayed in the same language zone than the previous dinner, from Peru to Spain.

Honestly, the Spanish dinner was hastily organized and that might have had an influence on the number of people present which dropped to the maximum ever registered the previous dinner to the lowest number ever of this one, with just 16 persons (7 Italians, 2 Americans, 2 Brazilians, 1 each for France, Belgium, Japan and Norway).

However, the dinner went along nicely...and slowly, as the restaurant was probably the slowest one in serving that we have ever been so far. Yet, to some nice (and pretty italian) focaccias and some tortillas, served as appetizers, three different kind of paellas followed: the classic Valencian one, a meat and (just for one person, but abundant enough to be tried by several people) a vegetarian one, the whole thing accompanied by abundant sangria.

I must say I'm not an expert of paella, but I found all three of them pretty tasty and rich, if a bit greasy (but I suppose that's as meant). The sangria surprisingly went along pretty well (and fast!) with the food and conversation kept nice and lively, hopefully making feel the new faces (making about a quarter of the whole) feel welcomed and integrated.

The only bad point of the evening at least for me, was that the service took so long that eventually we finished right about the time of the last day-buses' and metro' run, which meant that suddenly almost everyone had to run away without having had the chance of enjoying the free coffees and limoncelloes offered by the restaurant's owner. Personally, I closed the evening escorting Yoko to the closest (and crowded, just to be on the safe side) bus station and Lucia (Yoko's friend) directly to her place, lost in Rome's suburbs... quite a trip, I must say.

The lack of our semi-official photographer (Laura, where are you!?) was heavily felt as, I do not know why, two thirds of the pictures I took came out unfocused, with only 4 surviving... my apologized to the ones who intervened and didn't show up in the pictures here.

Next time it will be Africa time again.. Cameroon? Senegal? Nigeria? We'll see...